Johnson County to consider public health order requiring masks in all elementary schools

Under a proposed public health order, anyone inside a Johnson County school — public or private — serving kids in elementary grades up to 6th grade, would have to wear a mask in most indoor settings. The proposal comes as many schools prepare to bring students back to in-person learning later this month. Above, students and teacher wear masks last winter in an elementary classroom in SMSD. File photo.

The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners will consider a proposed public health order that would require universal mask-wearing inside all schools in the county — public and private — in which children up to and including 6th grade attend.

The measure is being proposed by county health officials and is on the commission’s docket for Thursday’s regular meeting.

Why it matters: The measure comes as COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant continue to increase rapidly in Johnson County and throughout the Kansas City region.

Schools have been debating what COVID-19 measures — including mask requirements — to put in place as kids prepare to return to in-person learning later this month.

Only about 40% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 in Johnson County are vaccinated, according to the Johnson County Department of Health an Environment.

All children under 12 — which corresponds with most children’s 6th grade year — are currently not eligible to be vaccinated.

Key quote: “The Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox. And although persons who are fully vaccinated rarely get serious infections, evidence is emerging that they can become infected and transmit the virus to others,” read a letter  accompanying the proposed order, signed by county health director Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., health officer Joesph LeMaster, MD, and assistant county manager Joe Connor.

The details: The proposed order would require:

  • masks be worn by all students inside school facilities in which children as old as 6th grade attend, which could include schools in which students in higher grades are also attending. (Older students in buildings that are physically separated from younger children would be exempt.)
  • masks be worn by all staff, faculty and visitors to buildings in which children as old as 6th grade attend.
  • masks be worn on school buses to and from school.

Exceptions are made for when students or other individuals are eating or drinking.

Masks would not be required to be worn outside on school property, including at recess.

The order would also allow for exemptions for students with a “medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering.”

The order also allows for exemptions for people who are deaf or have hearing impairments.

It also allows exemptions for “persons engaged in religious services, ceremonies or activities.”

What happens next: The Board of County Commissioners is set to take up the proposed order at its regular meeting Thursday, Aug. 5, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at the commission’s chambers in Olathe.